Most yoga practices, such as CorePower Yoga, focus on fitness and how much you can sweat in a session. While it’s great exercise, is that type of yoga really giving you the best benefits?
Mindful breathing lies at the heart of yoga, and is the traditional Ayurvedic approach. Yoga ties the breath to the body, so that when you are working on physical stamina, you are also working on mental stamina!
Pranayama and Yoga are two Ayurvedic rituals that go hand in hand in the journey of self-discovery, healing, and spiritual growth. Both have their roots in the ancient Indian scriptures, primarily the Vedas and Upanishads, and have evolved over thousands of years. Today, they are still widely used and modern science acknowledges their many health benefits .
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words: "prana," meaning life force or energy, and "yama," meaning control or expansion. Pranayama involves a wide range of breathing exercises designed to regulate and harness this vital energy within the body. In the Western world, pranayama is often simply known as “breathwork” - but according to Ayurveda, the meaning behind pranayama is so much more powerful!
In essence, pranayama involves conscious and intentional manipulation of the breath to achieve specific physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, which is why it’s always practiced with yoga.
Through pranayama, individuals learn to regulate the inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breath in various patterns and rhythms. This practice not only enhances respiratory health but also influences the flow of vital life energy throughout the body. Pranayama techniques can be used to calm the mind, increase energy, alleviate stress, and promote mental clarity, making it a valuable tool for holistic well-being and self-improvement.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a more comprehensive system. The physical aspect of yoga involves a series of postures (asanas) that improve flexibility, strength, and balance. These postures are often combined with pranayama and meditation techniques to enhance mindfulness and inner peace.
Yoga's ultimate goal extends beyond the physical, aiming for spiritual enlightenment and self-realization. It emphasizes self-awareness, inner peace, and the connection between the individual self and the universal consciousness. While yoga has a profound spiritual dimension, it is also widely practiced for its physical and mental health benefits, making it a versatile and adaptable practice for people of all backgrounds and ages.
Why Should I Practice Pranayama and Yoga?
- Health: Ayurveda teaches that the human body is composed of three doshas (biological energies) – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. An imbalance in these doshas can lead to physical and mental disorders. Pranayama and yoga both help to balance these energies by improving digestion, boosting the immune system, and promoting overall well-being [2 , 3].
- Mental Clarity and Enlightenment: We all desire some form of clarity and enlightenment - and pranayama and yoga can point us in the right direction! Through meditation and deep breathing, these practices calm the mind, reduce stress, and help individuals connect with their inner selves.
- Peace and Emotional Balance: Inner peace is a precious commodity, especially during times of the year that seem the most hectic, such as during the holidays. Pranayama and Yoga encourage self-awareness and emotional balance. Through regular practice, you can develop resilience and a deep sense of calm, even in challenging situations.
- Spiritual Growth: Yoga's ultimate purpose is the union of the individual self with the universal consciousness. This is seen as the highest state of spiritual evolution and is often referred to as "Samadhi."
So, next time you walk into yoga class and there’s no instruction on how to breathe, it might be time to find a new yoga instructor that holistically and intentionally honors the ancient practice of pranayama. Inhale the wisdom, exhale the stress, and embrace a life enriched by Pranayama and Yoga!
Pranayama Step-By-Step Guide
Find a Comfortable Position: Sit and relax with your back straight. You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed (sukhasana), in a chair, or even lie down if that's more comfortable for you.
Relax Your Body: Begin by taking a few deep breaths to feel at peace. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Close your eyes to help you focus inward and reduce distractions.
Natural Breathing: Start with a few rounds of natural, uncontrolled breathing to bring your awareness to your breath. Pay attention to the natural rhythm of your breath.
Begin Pranayama Techniques:
a. Deep Breathing (Sama Vritti): Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. Exhale slowly and completely through your nose, drawing your abdomen in. Repeat this for several breaths, making sure your inhalation and exhalation are of equal duration.
b. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing): Using your right thumb, close your right nostril, and inhale through the left nostril. Then, close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, then close it and exhale through the left. This completes one cycle. Repeat for several cycles, focusing on your breath and maintaining a slow, steady rhythm.
c. Bhastrika (Bellows Breath): Sit comfortably and take a deep breath in. Exhale forcefully through your nose, drawing your abdomen in quickly. Inhale deeply and exhale forcefully again. This rapid breathing should be done in sets of 10-20 breaths, followed by a few natural breaths. Be cautious not to overexert yourself.
d. Kapalabhati (Skull-Shining Breath): Sit comfortably, take a deep breath in, and exhale forcefully by quickly contracting your abdominal muscles. Inhale passively as your abdomen relaxes. Continue this rapid exhalation and passive inhalation for a few rounds. Kapalabhati is known for its detoxifying effect and is best practiced under the guidance of an experienced instructor.
Concluding Your Practice: After your chosen pranayama technique, return to natural, uncontrolled breathing for a few moments to transition back to a relaxed state.
Observe the Effects: Pay attention to how you feel after your pranayama practice. You may experience a sense of calm, increased focus, or heightened energy, depending on the specific technique you practiced.
Yoga Step-By-Step Guide
- Find a Suitable Space: Choose a quiet and clean area where you can practice without distractions. It's best to use a yoga mat or a non-slip surface to provide stability and comfort.
- Wear Comfortable Clothing: Wear clothing that allows for easy movement and doesn't restrict your range of motion. Most yoga practitioners wear comfortable, breathable attire.
- Set a Goal: Before you begin, set an intention for your practice. Whether it's to reduce stress, increase flexibility, or find inner peace, having a clear intention can enhance your experience.
- Choose a Style: There are various styles of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and more. Each style has its own set of postures and techniques. Choose the style that aligns with your goals and experience level.
- Warm-Up: Start with a gentle warm-up to prepare your body for the yoga practice. This may include light stretching or easy movements to loosen your muscles.
- Practice Asanas (Postures): Depending on the style you've chosen, perform a series of yoga postures (asanas) that target different muscle groups and body parts. Focus on alignment, breath control, and maintaining awareness throughout each posture.
- Breathe Mindfully: Pranayama is a crucial element of yoga. Coordinate your breath with your movements, inhaling and exhaling mindfully. Inhale as you extend or reach, and exhale as you fold or contract.
- Relax and Rest: Incorporate periods of relaxation and rest between poses. The practice of Savasana, also known as Corpse Pose, is often used to conclude a yoga session. This allows your body and mind to relax and integrate the benefits of the practice.
- Meditation and Mindfulness: Many yoga sessions include meditation or mindfulness exercises to enhance mental clarity and inner peace. This can involve deep breathing, visualization, or mantra repetition.
- Hydrate and Cool Down: After your yoga practice, drink water to stay hydrated and gently cool down with some simple stretches. Reflect on your experience and the benefits you've gained from your practice.
- Regular Practice: Consistency is key. To experience the full benefits of yoga, practice regularly. It can be as short as 15-30 minutes a day or longer sessions a few times a week, depending on your schedule and goals.
- Seek Guidance: If you're new to yoga or have specific goals, consider attending a class led by a qualified yoga instructor. They can provide guidance, alignment corrections, and ensure your safety.